The use of media to evoke sympathy for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict

The below is a sample of some of Evan’s work conducted while an undergraduate in college.

The year 1948 was a pivotal year for the Middle East as it gave one disenfranchised population (the Jewish) a long-coveted homeland while relegating the inhabitants of said homeland into a smaller, partitioned state that quickly was militarily occupied by the Jewish army after the Arab neighbors of the homeland attacked.

Since then, the Jewish people of the homeland termed Israel have gone from the oppressed and persecuted against for thousands of years to the oppressors, adamantly refusing to give up (rightly) its land it worked so hard to obtain but not sympathizing with the plight of the refugee Palestinians despite a curiously similar parallel to the Palestinian plight.

The sensitive issues that have plagued this region for 60 years have increasingly become focused in the lens of the world as violence escalates and a solution remains tantalizingly close but never consummated.

Gaza Strip, by James Longley, presents a harrowing description of life as a Palestinian youth, shuttered away in the Gaza Strip. Remaining as an impartial observer, the camera documents conditions that Americans would not stand for in their own land and uses the children that it focuses on to strike at the heart of the emotions of the reader.

By using this child to confront “grown-up” issues, the viewer is compelled to watch how the future, or lack thereof, of Palestinian youths is being played out. Youths drop out of school to support their family, risk their lives to throw stones of no importance other than a declaration of their outrage and dream of death, for the life they are living is not life at all.

The sense of the documentary is not one of bias despite the lack of Israeli representation in defending their actions. The director of the documentary does not concern himself with political ideologies or opinion. Rather, the focus of the film is to allow the viewer to experience what the Palestinians have had to endure since “The Catastrophe” of 1948. While the documentary never directly addresses the Nakba, it is referred to as the agent of what has caused the suffering of the Palestinians.

Does the documentary attempt to engage our sympathy for the Nakba? Not so much as it attempts to engage our sympathy for the present-day Palestinian plight and the implicit plea to find a solution for peace. However, all of this stems from the Nakba, and one is forced to wonder if the War of ’48 was indeed a victory. To be sure, it was a victory for Israelis, but was it a victory for the world?

Exodus says yes. Starring Paul Newman, Exodus is the story of the founding of the state of Israel. It documents the yearning to throw off the British rule and find a homeland where they can rule themselves. It shows the different avenues the Jewish take to achieve said goal and essentially ignores the Palestine question to focus on the Jewish plight.

The War for Independence is framed in the light of necessity, of earning what is their right and defending it at all costs. The Palestinians are irrelevant to the Jewish and draws the viewer in to identify with their plight and disregard the opposition – much like Gaza Strip does for the other side.

Exodus does not attempt to draw the viewer in identifying with youth and their bleak outlook on life. Rather, Exodus uses the tool of determined adults intent on providing themselves and their children a bright outlook. Gaza Strip used pessimism to make the point, Exodus used optimism. It’s a logical difference given the situation of each nationality, but it is done with the same sense of wrongdoing. The Jewish were wronged by World War II and need a homeland to call their own. The Palestinians were wronged by being expelled from their homeland and call for a right of return.

The Lemon Tree, a book penned by Sandy Tolan, brings the two obstacles together in a detached, historical telling of the conflict in the Middle East. The book begins by showing us how the Palestinians were set in their land and how the Jewish were oppressed and persecuted against by the Hitler regime.

Through a series of events, again recounted with no bias, the state of Israel is founded and the Palestinians are expelled. The author presents the facts on the backdrop of a Palestinian hell-bent on the right of return visiting the house he was expelled from as a young child. The book recounts the history of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict while retelling the story of the Palestinian and the Israeli he encounters living in his house.

While the beginning of the book makes obvious the need for a homeland for the Jewish, the emotional story plays out on the side of the Palestinian. It is the Palestinians that were wronged for much of the book; it is the main character, Bashir, that gets the most attention, and the Israelis who come across as the oppressors after having been the oppressed and fighting for their lives in the War of Independence.

While Tolan tries hard to maintain as neutral as possible, the dynamics surrounding the issue play out with Bashir commanding our attention and identification, while the Israeli, Dalia, wanders throughout the book frightened for the future of Israel. The only emotion evoked on behalf of the Israelis in the book come in the beginning, where  Dalia’s parents narrowly escape being sent to a concentration camp. After that, the emotional pendulum swings to the Palestinians where it remains. While logical because the Israel/Palestinian conflict started because of the founding of Israel, it nonetheless gives off the vibe that a solution must be reached that satisfies the Palestinians.

Tolan does, however, imply that what the more steadfast Palestinians, like Bashir, require as a solution is unacceptable – the removal of Israel as a state and every Jew that arrived post-1917 being expelled from the region. In the end, the book forces the reader to believe that the War of ’48 was a negative experience for it oppressed the Palestinians and expelled them from the little land they had.

The War of ’48 is presented more as a loss for the Palestinians than a victory for the Israelis because the Israelis are portrayed as being the attackers in the situation while the Arabs purportedly had no intention of going to war. While Tolan does his best to stick to the facts, the facts that create the Israeli/Palestinian conflict combined with the dynamics of the relationship Bashir holds with Dalia engender the War of ’48 to be seen more as a catastrophe than a war for independence.

The War of ’48 continues to plague the region to this day, and Israel is seemingly intent on not giving back any land and forcing Palestinians to live in poverty. No wonder it is a “Catastrophe” for the Palestinians. The challenge is juxtaposing the Nakba alongside the view of the Israelis – the war was establishing their independence, their homeland, their freedom from persecution.

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